A series of fraud cases involving the misuse of erasable-ink pens have come to light.
In some cases the use of such pens on administrative documents by municipal government officials has been identified later during inspections, contrary to best practices even where no fraud has been committed.
In response, one company that manufactures such pens has placed a cautionary warning on the packaging of its products, advising that the pen not be used for writing addresses or filling out forms or other important documents. "It's a convenient product, so we hope consumers will use the pens appropriately," an official at the company said.
The pen's ink can be rendered invisible, and it is then possible to write something else in the same space. The ink becomes transparent at a certain temperature, so it is possible to erase characters and text written in the ink by rubbing the page with a special eraser that generates frictional heat. For some kinds of erasable pens, the ink previously erased reappears when exposed to temperatures of minus 20 C or colder. In addition to ballpoint pens, there are also erasable markers and highlighter pens. Several companies currently market such pens in Japan, and there are more than 20 ink colors available.
At Tsuchiura City Fire Fighting Headquarters in Ibaraki Prefecture, a then 30-year-old senior employee was dismissed for illegally receiving a ¥700,000 (S$8,620) overtime allowance in September. The male employee, who was a payroll clerk at the time, submitted a time card using an erasable ballpoint pen and received written approval from his superior. Then, before submitting the document to the personnel section of the Tsuchiura municipal government, he rewrote it to inflate his hours.
Many erasable pens use an ink that can be removed with a special eraser attached to the pen, but some ink can be removed with generally available commercial erasers. If correction fluid is used to change writing or characters, traces of the fluid remain, and its use is obvious. However, erasable pens do not leave traces of erasure or correction.
Also, the handwriting produced using erasable pens is almost identical to that of normal pens. Stationery manufacturer Pilot Corp., which launched such a product in 2006, has said about 920 million pens of this kind have been sold in more than 90 countries.
However, as the product has become popular, misuse of such pens also has been increasing. At the end of last year, a person connected to a used car sales company was arrested by Chiba prefectural police on suspicion of producing and using a forged official document. The person allegedly altered a parking space certificate after it was issued. In another case, an erasable pen was used to illegally obtain a car registration.
At several departments of the Nagoya municipal government, documents for business trips and other matters have been completed using erasable pens, while at the Kasawaki municipal government, prices on invoices were written with erasable pens. Both cases were found during inspections. Officials involved reportedly used such pens because they were convenient, while inspectors at both municipal governments said the pens should not be used because of the ease of alterations.
Many municipalities ban the use of such pens for official documents, while some have procedures to detect their use. For example, some erasable inks can be detected due to its lighter colour. Or, if the use of such pens is suspected, an attempt can be made to erase part of the document to check.
According to Pilot, erasable pens are popular for studying as they do not produce eraser shavings, and are also are convenient for making notes in notebooks or on maps as they can be erased later. "We hope both erasable and conventional pens can be used for their appropriate purposes and situations."